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(UK) Sunderland: 11 y.o. with ASD and "serious health problems" has no school place

Feb 9, 2024, Sunderland Echo: Parents feel 'left in limbo' over school place for son who is deaf, autistic and has learning difficulties

A family said they feel "left in limbo" after their son, who has serious health and learning challenges, has still not been allocated a place at what they feel is a suitable secondary school.

Joseph Gibson, 11, was born at 24 weeks and three days and weighed just 1lb 8oz .

Brave Joseph faced seven operations as he battled for life but has been left with a number of health conditions due damage to his white matter - the deeper tissues of his brain.

Dad Paul Gibson, 40, said: "Joseph has a high pain threshold and so isn't always aware when doing something which is hurting him.

"He is also deaf and at risk of having seizures. Joseph has also been diagnosed as being autistic as well as having learning difficulties which are assessed as currently leaving him three or four years behind where a child of his age would be expected to to be.

"He has an education health care plan (EHCP) which is currently being updated to reflect his learning difficulties."

Fully aware of the challenges Joseph faces, Paul and his wife Gemma have spent the last two years trying to secure a place at a suitable school for when he moves on to the next stage of his education in September.

Paul said: "The situation we have is that Joseph is not judged as 'disabled enough' to go to a special school but we know he will not cope with the current provision in place in mainstream secondary schools.

"He has been left in limbo. We have been to visit a number of schools but none of them can cater for all of Joseph's needs….

Currently a Year 6 pupil at Thorney Close Primary School, Joseph is one of three deaf children to benefit from a specialist deaf teacher as well as a designated teaching assistant.

Based on geographical location, Joseph would ordinarily move on to Sandhill View Academy, where his brother Alfie is currently a pupil in Year 10.

Paul said: "His support at Thorney Close has generally been good and Joseph is making progress. They understand his needs, but we are really concerned that without the right provision he is going get left behind at secondary school and struggle to cope….

"There are schools in Durham and Newcastle which can cater for all Joseph's needs but we are outside their catchment area and Joseph shouldn't have to travel outside of the Local Authority to have his needs met.

"There will no doubt be other parents and children in this situation and there should be schools in Sunderland with a structure in place that can meet all Joseph's and other children's needs."…

"We know that Joseph is going to face challenges for the rest of his life, but he's entering the last five years of his education and there are certain skills he needs to know, but without the right resources in place he will get left behind."

The family have also been critical of the communication they've experienced with the Local Authority as they've sought to find a suitable school place.

Paul said: "We've been trying to sort a place for two years - it's not something we've left until the last minute.

"We were told someone from the places panel would be in touch, but that was three months ago….

Strategic lead for Special Educational Needs and disabilities, Pamela Robertson highlighted that the statutory deadline for places is not until next week, and while not referring to Joseph's specific case, stressed that provision in place at Sandhill View Academy for children with hearing impairments.

She said: "We are currently in the process of finalising school places for Year 6 children due to transition to secondary school in September 2024 in line with the statutory deadline of February 15. 

"Together for Children  operate a Hearing Impairment  Additionally Resourced Provision at Sandhill School, which is fully staffed by specialist teaching and support staff from the Children’s Sensory  Impairment Team, which includes a Qualified Teacher of the Deaf and specialist support staff….


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